Resistance

Every time I’ve tried to get my stuff together, I’ve always faced resistance. 

When I started exercising,  I would soon get sick or hurt. 

When I started trying to go to bed earlier, 1,000 things would come up to keep me up (a student distraction each night,  it seems).

And when I do get to bed earlier, I always feel worse at first, moody, as if sleep deprivation were an emotional anesthetic. 

When I started writing consistently,  life seemed to explode with physically and/or emotionally draining mini-crises, until I was so ragged I could hardly even think straight. 

Resistance.

It’s why we don’t succeed, why we let our dreams remain dreams instead of bringing them to life. 

Resistance. If I am really going to get my act together before this year is out, I’m going to have to learn to resist back. 

Steven Pressman literally wrote the book on overcoming resistance – two books,  actually: The War of Art and Do the Work.

Sleep Deprivation Is a Moral Issue


Well, mine is at least. 

Some people are sleep deprived because they have to work multiple jobs, maybe 80 hours a week, just to survive. In a nation as rich as America,  that’s a moral issue of an entirely different sort, a matter of basic decency and justice. 

That is not why I get sleep deprived. I get sleep deprived because I stay up too late. 

Doing what?  You might ask. Well,  that it’s the thing… It always seems to be something different.

I may not watch one bit of tv or play one minute of a videogame,  but  something will come up,  something I forgot to do,  something I need to look up,  something I want to talk about, an idea I want to write down …SOMETHING.

It is not any one thing. It’s a million different things. Which means it’s me. 

And I am going to fight back, starting today. 

Starting tonight,  it’s no excuses.  If I miss a night on the blog,  you will know why. 

If I fall short of another July goal,  that’s okay.  This matters more. 

Sleep deprivation dulls my wit and clouds my creativity.  It is damp wood for my creative spark,  producing far more smoke than fire. 

It makes me less effective at work,  shortchanging my department and the students we serve.

Sleep  deprivation takes me  away from my loved ones now by making me drowsy and grouchy.  

It will take me away from them permanently if I let it, maybe not this year,  but far sooner than I want to go. 

So starting tonight, I will fight back. I will start getting ready for bed by  10, and close my eyes by 11.

I am drawing a line.  Please pray that I will be able to hold it. 

Meat-Free Monday: Simpler Food

(Video warning: harsh language)

Well, one good thing about going vegan, is that I am immune from the worst of it: pink slime, McNuggets, whatever’s in hot dogs. I get a bit queasy thinking about how many of those I ate over the course of the last 40 years.

But I’m sure I’m still taking in a lot of frankenfood. I never knew that about orange juice.

So I’m working to make some gradual changes in a more “whole foodsy” direction.

  • Eating oatmeal for breakfast more often
  • (As opposed to peanut butter and bagels, or prepared cereals)
  • Topping my salads with homemade vinegar dressings, not pre-bottled one
  • Eating even more raw fruits and vegetables than I do now
  • Chilling and eating dates for dessert more often, instead of more processed options
  • Eventually getting a juicer and making my own juice

This will hopefully be better for me, both for long-term health and short-term digestion. My weight may even settle in a little lower, but I’m much more concerned with blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and so on.

Meat-Free Monday: The Best Reason

There’s another reason that I’m going vegan, and it’s both a moral and a health reason: I want to be there for my daughter for as long as I can.

She’s 3. I’m 41. She should not have to bury her father anytime soon. Assuming she has kids, they deserve to get to know their grandfather.

Now, I’m not ticking off the time. Most of my recent male ancestors made it to 80 and beyond. One great-grandfather died young, at 59, from a heart attack.

But none of them (not even the one who died young) was fat. And, in case my profile picture and last Monday’s weigh-in haven’t tipped you off, I am.

Now, I’m all about body positivity, so when I say “fat,” I mean it descriptively, not pejoratively. I’m definitely a big deal.

And while the actual evidence about BMI and morbidity is a lot more complex than the diet pill pushers want you to believe: BMI is a terrible measure of health, to the point of “lying by scientific authority,” and the topic of weight and weight loss are so emotionally and financially fraught that they’ve developed their own mythology.

Read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata and Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon to see how some of that mythology developed, and to see through some of it.
BMI balderdash aside, even at 6’7″ tall, it can’t be healthy to weigh 375 pounds.

And while diets have been repeatedly proven to not work in the long term, I promise I’m not dieting (I lost another 2-3 pounds this week, depending on how I stand on the scale, but I promise I’ve been sucking down food like a vegan vacuum cleaner), so I hope I can escape the almost certain re-gaining plus interest that comes after five years.

In all the health and weight talk, people often forget to mention one thing:mobility. I was slowing down. I was getting hurt more easily. It was getting harder and harder to keep up with my little girl.

And while I’m still not ready for the Olympics, I’m doing a lot better. It’s easier to get down to the floor and back up again, I move more quickly, I feel better, and I’m even healing a little faster. Swimming has helped, to be sure, and so has the lost weight, but I feel like my eating has really “fueled” the improvements.
Eat better, feel better. There you go!

Meat-Free Monday: The Journey Begins

I’m moving toward becoming vegan.

So you may ask why I would do such a thing, given my lifelong predilection towards eating meat, loving cheese, and the whole 9 yards. You might also ask what chance I have of actually successfully riding this out, given my short-lived, idealistic attempts at any number of other eating plans in the past: South Beach, staying clear of dairy (which I’ve done several times for various health-related reasons … first because of sinus, then because of actual lactose intolerance), Weight Watchers, and some vaguely bean and greens based diet with lots of protein and nutritional faddish vitamins and stuff.

Well, my reasons actually go back a while. As you may recall, some time ago (September 2012, actually) I tried to give up on factory farmed meat eggs and dairy. The problem with this was that I still wanted to eat meat eggs and dairy in the same proportions as I did before (which never works, but I’ll talk about that more later). Free range anything is going to be twice as expensive, and free range is not a very well-regulated term so it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

As so many other things did this came to an end, due to “something.” In this case, the “something” was pretty big: a tornado hit my house, and 12 days later my daughter was born. In this case, I can be excused from falling off whatever wagon I was teetering upon at the time.

However, I am a flake, so if it wasn’t a tornado and a childbirth, it probably would’ve been some other “something.”

I could say that the reason I did this or started this I haven’t done it yet was as I looked at the scale and saw that it read 375. I’m a tall guy (6’7” – that’s 2 meters for y’all in the rest of the world), but 375 pounds is about 170 kg. It’s a lot. My BMI and my age are running neck and neck, and they’re about to catch up with Douglas Adams’ favorite number (Not that the BMI is a reliable or valid measurement of health, but goodness!)

Honestly, I got over the sticker shock of 375 pounds a long time before I ever thought of reducing animal intake.

In fact, I talked about even going on diets, which I don’t really believe in due to the medical evidence and of extremely high failure rates over a five-year period, and the medical evidence of the damage that weight cycling does to a person’s metabolism and their body overall. I’ve done a lot of reading, and the only things that work for major sustainable weight loss are gastric bypass or a major shift of consciousness that causes the person to start over in their entire relationship to food, exercise and activity, and their whole mind-body connection. So in short, it’s either cut out part of your stomach, or give your entire mindset major surgery.

What really put me back on this path was having lunch with Sally Jane Black, who you might know from Letterboxd, where she is the best film critic of her generation, or if you’re really lucky from role-playing gaming where she is the best GM I’ve ever encountered of any generation. And yes, I’m name dropping. Sally Jane has been a vegetarian for as long as I’ve known her, since she was a teenager I think. And Katherine and I had talked about reducing our animal intake, making more vegetable dishes, just trying to eat a little bit more healthfully since we know that the average American eats too much meat and dairy on an average yearly basis. So Katherine asked her what she cook how did she eat. That just sort of started my mind rolling.

That afternoon, we went to the Audubon zoo. After several hours there, we stopped to get some refreshments. Katherine and the little one got ice cream, but I was leery about getting anything so heavily dairy when I was in New Orleans, a city not well known for easy bathroom access. We would be doing a lot of walking that day to lots of different places, and I wanted to be ‘normal’ for it. But then I saw that the concession stand at the zoo where they were getting their ice cream had sorbet. I bought the mango, and said after one taste, “If I can get sorbet half this good, I’ll never want to eat ice cream again.” And I meant it. If you have access to Häagen-Dazs mango sorbet, try it.

In addition to being a tasty treat, it was an eye-opening moment. I enjoyed that mango sorbet as much or more than I’ve ever enjoyed any ice cream I’ve ever had. Maybe the heat of the day and the fun of touring a zoo with a three year old made it taste sweeter, but in my mind, I realized I didn’t have to suffer to do this. For the first time, I really believed it.

So within a week of that trip I stumbled across Main Street Vegan, a book about going vegan when you don’t live in New York City , LA, or Portland, when you don’t make six figures, when you don’t have a Whole Foods and a market right at your doorstep. It’s a book about going vegan when you have a family that may not also want to do that, when you have kids, so you can’t spend an hour and a half fixing a massive multi-ingredient delicate foodie type recipe, even if you wanted to, which I have never in my life wanted to do that – I’ll eat a meal it’s been prepared with that kind of love and attention to detail, and I will complement the chef profusely, but I’ve never felt deserved the desire to actually do that. I write, I sing well enough for three-year-old audience, and I like to do visually artsy type things though again I’m about good enough for three-year-old audience.

So started reading Main Street Vegan, and I was pretty well convinced by the time I got to the sample material that I was going to buy the book, and I was sure is gonna make some kind of go of it.

Since then I’ve spent some time online, and I found out that not every vegan lives in a major city or even a progressive area, and not every vegan is a foodie. Monique, the “Brown Vegan,” has a lot of practical information for those of us who don’t secretly wish to attend the Culinary Institute.  Some vegans prefer raw foods, which are great because they don’t take that much time and they are generally hard to screw up, which is really good for me.

Although I am not sure how people make all of those smoothies. Every time I make a smoothie and ends up just kind of okay, but certainly not worth the extensive cleanup that comes afterwards. Only takes five minutes to make a smoothie, and an hour to clean the blender. Well, I’d rather eat my food rather than drink it anyway, so even if I never solve that particular riddle, I’ll be fine.

To make a long story short, I did the research and came to believe I could actually do this.

And here’s my final reason: the little one is getting old enough to ask questions. She watches a lot of cartoons about animals, like A Turtle’s Tale (the first one is very educational, and has a great sense of timing, pausing to let the viewer feel the wonder of the oceans or witness the devastation wrought by pollution like an oil spill) or the various Land Before Time sequels.

And inevitably, the biggest fear the protagonists have is predation. Nobody wants to be eaten.

So, what am I going to say when she asks me “why do we eat animals?”

I can’t tell her we need to do it to survive.

I can’t tell her it’s nature’s way. We choose our path. We don’t just follow instincts.

Previously, I’d have to tell her “Because people have eaten animals for a long time, and we don’t care enough to ask if we still need to. But mostly, because they taste good.”

And I don’t want to be the kind of person who tells his daughter that concern for animals is stupid, that empathy is a liability, if the animal tastes good.

But now, if I succeed at this, when she asks “why do we eat animals?” I can say “Daddy doesn’t.”

And that’s an answer I can live with.

 

 

It Felt Like a Feast (Wrestling with Joy, Pleasure, and the Distractions of Modern Life)

people doing kettlebells exercises

I tried my first kettlebell swing workout tonight. My body gently aches from the back of my neck, across my shoulders and arms, down to my thighs and calves. Not two hours after I did the set, I found myself standing straighter, taller.

Maybe I really am 6’7”, and I’ve just been slouching.

But how did it feel? When I think back on my first, unimpressively weak (20 pound weight), slightly awkward experience with the kettlebell, what washes over me?

It felt like a feast.

Not just a buffet, or a coincidentally large meal. A feast, full of foods I really wanted, foods I only taste a few times a year. It felt like Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

Exercise has hardly ever felt like this before. Usually it’s drudgery in progress and pain and soreness following. But this felt like a feast. I’m beginning to understand people who love exercise.

Even putting aside sex totally, our bodies are meant to feel pleasure. Our bodies are meant to desire it.

But it seems like in my sedentary postmodern life, that sense is somewhat lost. Too much is buried in the screens: the gray of the office computer, the distracting static of the television, the infinite insignificance of the web, all exacerbated by long commutes and short nights.

The very technology and modernity that allows so many of us to live so comfortably, when in the past we might have died in the cradle, stands between us and the experience of joy.

We develop a disconnect with our bodies. We no longer stop and feel the rain, as we did in our youth. We no longer run for the joy of running, as we did as children. We no longer stop to let the wind rush over us.

Our pleasures are limited to our sex lives, the manufactured adrenaline of our media, and our food. And too often, that gets us into trouble. Because just as the media we consume is manipulated and processed to provide the fastest bang, the most addictive return on investment, so is our food.

And sometimes, this artificial intensity even spills over into our sex lives, in various forms of objectification. But that’s a topic for a different post.

Our bodies are meant to desire pleasure. Not manufactured, processed, white-sugar-buzz pleasure, with its dizzy intensity, inevitable crash, and empty hunger for more.

We are meant for spontaneous, genuine delight, like a child chasing leaves in an autumn wind. Like a young man running to meet the train that brings his beloved back to him. Like the sheer joy of feeling your body push its limits just far enough that it doesn’t verge into pain and damage.

It’s strange that a simple kettlebell swing reminded me of this. And stranger still that I went to a computer screen to share it. But such is the age we live in.

Time doesn’t run backward. Turning back the clock just breaks your hands. But who we are hasn’t changed, and the genuine joy we need is still available. Just look beyond the static.

The Necessity of Struggling

For so long before this storm, things were going so well I had only petty complaints. That nagging doubt at the back of my mind, that it shouldn’t be this way, that calm waters are stagnant waters? Easily ignored.

That comfortable, easy place I’d been living in for so long?  A trap. It’s not the Peace of Christ, but the anesthetized-entertained comfort of sitting in front of the television set with a big bowl of ice cream.

It doesn’t make me profoundly grateful. It makes me weak.

The struggle of exercise – walking, lifting weights, swimming, climbing, running, wrestling itself – makes us stronger. So does the struggle of our spirit – studying things that challenge our preconceived notions and existing interpretations, practicing empathy to understand why others differ, letting our hearts break with those who are suffering profoundly, getting our lives dirty, looking ridiculous, walking as Jesus did, among those who are “other” and beyond the pale of respectable society.

We were meant to struggle. We were never meant to coast. There is no cruise control in the Christian life.

But that’s what we do so often.

  • We know what we believe – or at least what our denominations believe – and we never question it.
  • We accept our interpretation of the Bible as being as infallible as the Bible itself.
  • We accept our respectable social circle as right, superior, almost sacred.
  • We let our socially acceptable sins slide. It’s not really gossip, I mean, not if you spread it out out love…
  • We accept our privileged American lifestyle as our birthright.
  • We accept our nation’s sins and crimes, no matter how many suffer and die for our “security” or to produce the consumer goods we crave.
  • We unconsciously assume that a “Just War” and an “American War” are one and the same.
  • Or perhaps we blindly take the political left’s side. There’s no reason to pick on conservatives. Spiritual laziness is apolitical.

I’ve been guilty of all of these in the past. And my spirit, like my physical health, has paid the price.

I’m making a commitment here to struggle every day. It won’t be hard to find things to push back against.

  • my distractedness
  • my physical laziness
  • my tendency to let Katherine do too much of the housework
  • my uncharitable thoughts, especially about those in authority
  • my tendency to eat too much of the wrong foods
  • my tendency to make everything about me and what I want/feel/think/believe
  • my privilege as a white, male, middle-class, heterosexual cisgender American
  • and so on

Ultimately, this struggle isn’t about the little details or the individual sins. It fundamentally affects what kind of person I am.

Ephesians 6:12 (NASB) says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

If we don’t struggle, if we just coast in our well-fed first-world lives, what use are we?